I wish I could be the kind of person who made bread from scratch all the time, but like most modern women, my family’s lifestyle makes that pretty much impossible. So once in a while I bake scratch bread the old fashioned way, and the rest of the time, I use a bread machine. The beauty of a bread machine is that it makes it possible for you to have fresh bread literally every day. It also means you know exactly what is going into your bread - right down to the kind of flour and how much salt. (Although don’t be tempted to leave the salt out entirely as the yeast needs it to work!) It also means you are not popping to the shops ‘just for a loaf of bread’ every two minutes. Although that might not seem like an onerous task, particularly if the shop is nearby, I always find that I buy a lot more than a loaf of bread when I am there and end up spending a lot more than I intended. If I can avoid the trip to the shop, it can save me a lot of money!
One of the things that helped me to really love my bread machine is a book by Sonia Allison called The Complete Bread Machine Cookbook. It was published ten years ago, so can be hard to get hold of, but it’s well worth buying if you can find a copy.
It’s Sonia’s technique for putting the ingredients in the bread machine that really works for me, and gives fabulous results. She recommends putting the liquid and any oil in the bread container first, then adding half the flour ingredients, then the salt, sugar and milk powder (if using), adding the rest of the flour and then mounding the yeast on top. This prevents the yeast from getting wet too soon and gives much better results. I highly recommend this method.
This is one of the breads I make most often. The polenta (cornmeal) gives the bread a wonderful texture and flavour, so it's good for sandwiches, toast, or warmed alongside a nice bowl of pasta.
2¾ cups strong white bread flour (organic if possible)
¼ cup cornmeal
1¼ cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I’ve also used ordinary olive oil)
2 teaspoons salt (I use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons dried milk powder
1½ teaspoons instant or fast-acting dried yeast (I’ve used up to 2 teaspoons at times)
Mix together the flour and polenta. Pour the water into the breadmaker bucket, then add the oil, and half the flour and polenta mixture. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar and dried milk. Cover with the remaining flour mixture and mound the yeast into the centre.
Fit the bucket into the breadmaker and set to the programme recommended in the manual (usually basic white or No 1).
When the programme has finished, gently shake the loaf out of the bucket on to a wire cooling rack and stand right way up. Leave for at least an hour before cutting and/or removing paddle if necessary.